Fears are growing in America’s 8,000-strong community of Rohingya – a Muslim ethnic group described as one of the world’s most oppressed – that they might be among the last to benefit from American largesse.
President Donald Trump’s inclusion of Myanmar on a list of countries with harsh US entry restrictions, beginning on Friday (Feb. 21), means the entry door for the Rohingya refugee has just been shut.
At its height, the Rohingya population numbered about 800,000 in Myanmar, a small fraction of the country’s mostly Buddhist population of 54 million.
Mistreated for generations, they were stripped of their citizenship in 1982 and denied education and healthcare.
Then in 2013, religious tensions heightened and many Rohingya villages were torched, forcing nearly 200,000 into camps.
Myanmar’s army has been accused of mass murder, systematic rape and other abuse amounting to what the US Holocaust Memorial Museum describes as compelling evidence of ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The US President’s infamous “travel ban” places tight visa controls on 13 countries, including the newly added Myanmar, Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan and Tanzania, as well as former Soviet state Kyrgyzstan.
Effectively putting a halt to entries from those nations, it is not supposed to bar refugees fleeing persecution, the State Department told Agence France-Presse.
But Mr. Azeem Ibrahim, director of the displacement and migration programme at the Centre for Global Policy, believes the message from the White House is clear.
“Somebody in this administration probably realised that this is among the largest refugee population in the world,” said the author of The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide.
“So if you want to stop refugees, you’re going to include one of the largest populations.”
Meanwhile, at the Chicago Rohingya centre, a Midwestern city that is home to around a quarter of America’s Rohingya,English and citizenship teacher Susan Chestnut says that when she started two years ago, she was shocked at the low level of literacy among those she was helping.
“Imagine not knowing how to use a pencil. Most of them never had been in school until they started my classes,” the Chicago-area native told AFP.
Ms Chestnut too believes that Mr Trump’s visa restrictions are intended to convey Washington’s enmity to a people whose “resilience and courage” amazes her daily.
“They are not terrorists, they are not bad people. They don’t understand. I teach them that, as a citizen, one of the most important things you can do is vote, having a voice,” she said.
“They’ve never had that. They don’t know what it means to be a citizen. They are citizens of nowhere, but they consider America their country.” (Source: The Straits Times)